West Sacramento nonprofit prepares to launch FM radio station

In an era when internet streaming and podcasts have become popular broadcast forms, a West Sacramento nonprofit is focusing on home-grown FM radio as a way to bring information on local affairs to residents.

The West Sacramento Neighbors Fair, led by former mayor and councilman Wes Beers and longtime West Sacramento News-Ledger Editor Steve Marschke, applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a low-power, 83-watt signal at 92.9 on the FM dial.

Once a group that organized parades and other community events, a retooled Neighbors Fair is moving into the communications field, with an eye toward delivering West Sacramento news, city information and covering high school sports. Beers, the group’s president, talked about the proposed station, its mission and future.

How did the opportunity for a local radio station arise?

The FCC had a unique release of low-end FM bandwidth. We heard about it. We had talked about news radio, and there was really no other group looking into it. We’re very hopeful. Only nonprofits could apply for this, and Neighbors Fair was the vehicle to do it.

The board of Neighbors Fair was about to shut down. The remaining board resigned but appointed us to replace them. We wanted to expand beyond what the Fair did every year to keeping the community connected. I think it will be exciting. It was a unique opportunity, and we latched onto it.

Talk about the station’s mission and where it is in the process.

It’s a kind of work in progress, but we’d like to get a real local slant, real organic, real grassroots – 92.9 is a pretty solid signal. The range is pretty much West Sacramento. It’s pretty localized. Having the opportunity to do it is the key. We would like to have the ability to stream to the Internet. There’s a lot of potential. We would want to start as soon as we could, but we’re still very early in the process. It would launch December 2014 at the earliest.

How might the city of West Sacramento be involved? What about River City High School and Sacramento City College, which has a satellite campus there?

They saw a practical application in terms of emergency response and the ability to get messages out. We had some really preliminary discussions with teachers and support from nonprofits. They said, “Bring it on.”

We see it as a really fun opportunity. We liked the idea of working with the schools from a journalism aspect. We want to pull together schools and the city and start planning appropriate next steps. They could broadcast sporting events. It gets students connected and the community connected.

West Sacramento City Manager Martin Tuttle thought it would be a fun activity. River City High School has multimedia equipment. We wanted to approach Sacramento City College. We could locate the station at the West Sacramento community center and make it a real local station.

What about funding?

We’re looking to see if grants are available, and we’ll see if there is a membership component. Hopefully, there will be a lot of volunteer elbow grease involved.